Dara Shikoh’s neglected library may become tourist spot

Agra, Feb 3:

The Uttar Pradesh government will renovate the neglected red sandstone structure here that was once the rich library of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s brother Dara Shikoh, a great scholar who sought to explore the commonality between Islam and Hinduism and translated Hindu scriptures, including the Upanishad, into Persian.

Pic courtesy:www. ummid.com
Pic courtesy:www. ummid.com

Historians say Mughal history would have been radically different had Dara Shikoh, had he not been killed, ascended the throne instead of the more fundamentalist Aurangzeb.

The funds for the renovation project will come from the World Bank’s tourism initiative. The principal secretary of the state government, Sanjeev Mittal, who was here last week, has ordered the conservation of the heritage library. Agra District Magistrate Pankaj Kumar has asked experts to draw up a plan which will soon be sent to the government.

Conservationists in Agra had long demanded the restoration and reopening of Dara Shikoh’ library that has been in shambles in the heart of the Taj city.

“People may have forgotten about its existence. But during Shah Jahan’s reign, it was a centre of scholarship and excellence,” said historian Raj Kishore Raje. “Sufi saints and scholars regularly met and discussed mysticism and theology, with Dara Shikoh himself initiating the discussions,” he added.

Dara Shikoh (1615-59) was Shah Jahan’s eldest son and would have succeeded him but for being defeated in battle and then being assassinated at the instance of his brother Aurangzeb. This was during an intense power struggle following Shah Jahan’s illness, leading to the emperor’s ouster in 1658.

Dara Shikoh, whose name in Persian means “possessing such magnificence as Darius”, set up libraries in several places including one in Delhi. But the best known library was in Agra, also called his haveli. It was taken over by the British in 1881 and became the Town Hall, according to the 1921 Agra Gazetteer.

Dara Shikoh was a great scholar of Persian and Sanskrit. Despite the ravages of wars and his involvement in a series of political and domestic crises due to Shah Jahan’s ill health, he still found time to translate and write books. His chief mission was to explore the commonality between Hinduism and Islam and how the gap could be bridged.

Several important works, including the Upanishads, were translated into Persian. The library had separate enclosures for book binders, painters and translators. Dara bought thousands of books from Europe for this library.

The Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society has urged the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to acquire the building and take up restoration work before opening it to the public.

“This structure does not boast of power or royalty but symbolises the spirit of Sulah Kul, Din-e-Ilahi and the later day secularism. The library stands as a testimony to the high level of intellectualism and recognition of academic excellence,” Society president Surendra Sharma said.

The red sandstone library building, which should have been conserved and protected by the ASI, is now with the Agra Municipal Corporation. Parts of it have been sold to traders at the Moti Ganj Mandi while other parts have been encroached upon. In its heyday, it was a beautiful building, with airy shelves for the books, provision of light and air, huge halls and scholarly ambience.

The central hall with highly decorative painted windows, stone-carved shelves for books with proper ventilation and air passages and natural light filters speak of the taste and passion of Dara Shikoh.

Evidence of this is still visible though the area has been reduced to a wholesale market of rice, jaggery and sugar.

During British Raj, the building was briefly used for the high court and then for government offices and the local body.

An over 300-year-old map of the area at the Agra University’s K.M. Institute brings out the strategic location of the library.

An Archaeological Survey of India official said the property belonged to the Municipal Corporation and it should restore it. But others want the ASI to acquire the building and open it to the public so that the rich literary and academic legacy of Dara Shikoh become known. (IANS)

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